Web accessibility auditing
Key goals of audit
A web accessibility audit is not an aim in itself. It is a tool to make your website more accessible and to improve your organisation's capacity to operate an accessible website. These are the outcomes that really matter.
As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that these goals are achieved.
Some of the process of a web accessibility audit is technically oriented and may be outside of your experience and skill range. However, ensuring that the audit results in a more accessible website and improved capacity to publish accessibly is certainly part of your job as a manager.
Ensuring that you can achieve the core goals of the audit is the reason for your involvement throughout the process. As with so many activities, and particularly those related to technology, the interest and involvement of senior management is a key success factor in working to improve accessibility.
Use the auditing process to increase capacity within your organisation around web accessibility. Commissioning a website accessibility audit is an opportunity to not only up-skill staff on the technical issues involved in web accessibility but also to raise their awareness of how people with disabilities use the web. This will lead to a deeper understanding of the issues involved in web accessibility. This increased awareness and capacity will also help to ensure that future developments on the website will result in more accessibility. It may reduce your reliance on expensive consultancy in the future. The best consultants, after all, are those that effectively make themselves redundant by enabling staff to learn as much as possible during the auditing process.
Therefore, it is important to have clear sight of the goals of knowledge transfer and increased capability in your organisation during the auditing process. Ensuring that these goals are achieved requires planning.
Facilitate relevant staff to learn from the process so that future developments on the website will result in more accessible outputs. During the auditing process you can maximise the knowledge transfer opportunities for your staff in a number of ways:
Involve all relevant staff in the auditing process and, in particular, at the presentation of the findings by the consultant;Mentoring - have the consultant review changes made by staff to the site on foot of the auditing report. This will help to ensure that the issues identified in the report are fixed correctly and according to best practice. It will also ensure that staff understand the nature of the issues identified in the audit report and learn from the process; Training - have the consultant provide additional training to staff as necessary.
Interpreting the audit report
When you receive the report on the web accessibility audit, try to get a full understanding of it. Measures to do so include:
- taking time to read it fully;
- comparing the report to the specification to check for gaps;
- reviewing the major findings and action plan to ensure that the prioritised action points are attainable.
If there is anything in the report that is unclear to you, ask the auditor, your own technical staff or both. Make sure that relevant members of your staff understand the report as it relates to them, including:
- technical staff;
- content staff;
- operational staff.
If they have questions about the report, encourage them to discuss these with the auditor. A report that is fully understood is easier for people to accept as the basis for action to improve accessibility.
Some people or sections may be defensive about the report's findings. You need to overcome this if they are to accept the report and move forward with it. Emphasise again the value of the accessibility audit as a technique for moving forward and improving the website.
Acting on the report
Once the report has been clarified, understood and accepted in your organisation, you can move to act on it. How quickly this can be done depends on various factors, including the scale of the website and the number and nature of accessibility problems identified in the report.
You also need to consider the other pressures on the organisation and its resources, availability of budgets, and other technical and communications initiatives that may be taking place.
When a web accessibility audit is scheduled, it is most important to ensure that its output is built into site operation from that point.
For example, an audit may highlight problems where links to downloadable documents do not state the document type and size. This is important because:
- such links may confuse users by unexpectedly opening a new window;
- the resulting document format may be inaccessible to some users; and
- it may take a long time to download the document over a dial-up connection, with no information given to the user about how long they should expect to wait.
Therefore, it is important to clearly inform users about what they are getting if they click on the link. Finding such problems should result in several actions such as:
- fixing those document links during or just after the audit;
- creating guidelines on linking to documents;
- delivering guidelines and training to site operations staff; and
- ongoing monitoring of links to documents.
Fix problems or redevelop site?
A key question in moving from audit to action is whether accessibility problems on the site can be rectified or whether redevelopment is the only option.
Redevelopment might be the only option for achieving your accessibility goal if key elements of the publishing technology had built-in accessibility problems. For example, the content management system might rely completely on older HTML codes that are now deprecated and contrary to the WCAG Priority 2 guideline that deals with the use of the latest version of HTML/XHTML.
On the other hand, redevelopment might be a preferred option and the most efficient way to achieve your accessibility goal. This may particularly be the case if you have other drivers for change on the website.
The decision to rectify or redevelop can only be made in the context of your actual site and technology. There are a number of factors to consider in making this decision:
- Is the current site dated or defective in ways other than its accessibility?
- Can redevelopment be justified on other grounds, such as improved functionality, greater reliability and improved efficiency?
- Are there other drivers towards redevelopment, for example a need for bilingual capability to meet requirements of the Official Languages Act 2003
- Are accessibility problems embedded in content to such an extent that a clean start on a new site, with content recreated instead of transferred, is the most sensible approach?
If the decision is to redevelop, consider how to preserve user bookmarks, search engine positioning and other assets of the original site's resources. To do so, either the â€œoldâ€ addresses should continue to function or these should be redirected automatically to their replacements on the new site.
Accessibility conformance claims and accessibility statements
Based on your accessibility audit, you may be able to make a conformance rating claim for your website. Typically this is done by displaying the Single-A, Double-A or Triple-A logo on the homepage or throughout the site.
A WAI logo only refers to the page on which it is displayed and not the entire site. Different parts of the site may have different WAI conformance ratings. For example, if your site contains content in PDF without an accessible HTML alternative, not even a conformance rating of WAI Single-A can be made for the entire site, even if all HTML pages are accessible.
A more detailed and meaningful way to state the accessibility of your website is to write an accessibility statement. This should be a clear statement of your organisation's commitment to maintaining an accessible website and of the conformance rating of the website.
Where some services or information are still not available in an accessible format, provide information on how this content or service can be requested or accessed through a different channel. There are a number of ways in which this can be done:
- Example 1: Many local authority websites provide planning application information online that includes Geographical Information System (GIS) information. This graphical content is currently very difficult to make accessible. In this case, provide contact details for the planning office, which is experienced in handling queries over the phone and in person on planning application matters. The staff involved should be trained to understand the limitations of the system for people with disabilities;
- Example 2: Your website may contain a lot of legacy content that is in inaccessible formats. Provide clear instructions on how someone can request that this information is converted to an accessible format.
An accessibility statement should contain the following features:
- a clear statement of the organisation's commitment to maintaining an accessible website;
- an accurate statement of the website's WAI WCAG conformance rating;the accessibility features of the website;
- known accessibility issues with the site and timelines for addressing these;
- how users can request information or a service on the site that is currently inaccessible in a format or channel that best suits their needs;
- how someone can send feedback on the accessibility of the site.
If you claim an accessibility level for your website and have used a sample to audit accessibility, this could also be included in your accessibility statement.